Monday, March 09, 2009

When Harry Became Henry

Kenneth Branagh's "Henry V" was playing at the student center at the best possible time. It was junior year, and I had switched to English as my major. I was in the obligatory Shakespeare course, focused on the tragedies and historicals. We had just finished our exams for Henry IV and Henry V where we had to identify text and write about it. So, watching this movie - we laughed loudly at the witty wordplay we now understood and quoted St Cripin's Day speech and other key parts along with the actors.

I've read and seen a number of his Shakespearean plays, but I love "Henry V" for its diverse content. When it begins, King Henry is just young Prince Harry who hangs out at the pub with the rowdy bunch, not interested in being King. His father's not sure what to make of him. He's sent to lead the English army into France. At the Battle of Agincourt, the English army is depleted and weary. Henry makes the most invigorating inspirational speech to strengthen the men's spirits. There's another act written in French between Katherine and her maid, who tries to teach her English. The final act is the most romantic scene ever as Henry woos her in clumsy French and English.

We watched this movie bring the war alive. This was 1989, and we hadn't really seen any actual blood and guts scenes on film like this before. Now we have "Braveheart", "Saving Private Ryan," and "Lord of the Rings" for comparison for battle scenes, and the slurpy sound of a sword plunging into a gut has become de rigeur for war films.

There are two absolutely memorable scene for me. The first is the St Crispin's Day speech. My God, a King comes down to his men right before a battle, and says that he who stands beside me will be my brother. Do you realize how huge that is? He says that we're all going to be legends, and and people will remember everyone's name. He refers to himself as "Harry the King," as if that's just a job to him. He reminds them of the importance of their mission and the value of their lives. He gives them hope that they will survive and grow to be old and talk about this day. (Do our leaders today do that?)

Branagh channels a truel leader as King Harry addressing his weak army; the way the music swells gives me chills to this day. Here's a site to watch the speech and read the full speech .

The second scene I love is the final scene between Katherine and Henry (Link1, Link2). He starts off being humble "Fair Katharine, and most fair, Will you vouchsafe to teach a soldier terms Such as will enter at a lady's ear And plead his love-suit to her gentle heart?" Then he starts referring to her as Kate, releasing any formality. He acknowledges the language barrier with his broken French.

I love his argument when she says no to his request for a kiss because it is not proper for a French lady. He reminds her "Dear Kate, you and I cannot be confined within the weak list of a country's fashion: we are the makers of manners, Kate." Had I dated royalty in college, would he have used this line?

This movie is sweaty, grimey, romantic, alive and explosive. And, it's Shakespeare on top of that!

1 comment:

Waldekke said...

I remember, some twelve years ago or even more, I saw this film for the first time and entirely by accident. I walked out of the screening room, and what I saw was totally different. This film changed the way I look at the world. My first Shakespeare. :o)